I’m sorry, but the pain au rasin in England are rubbish. The worst are made from puff pastry and loads of sugar: they’re dry and oily at the same time. The better ones are made from bread dough, but more often than not glazed in a layer of gelatinous sugary goo. In any case, they are then trucked from one end of the country to the other, until they’re stale, at which point they can be sold.
So sometimes, it’s worth making one’s own. The basis is a fairly austere brioche dough: the origins of this one are lost in the mists of time, but I think it originally comes from the BBC website, although I could find no trace of it when I looked recently.
Here’s what you need.
- 225g white bread making flour
- 1 sachet dried yeast (5g)
- 50mL milk
- pinch salt
- 20g caster sugar (maybe more if you have a sweet tooth)
- 50g butter (maybe more if you fancy)
- 2 large eggs
- about a tablespoon brown sugar
- about 80g raisins or sultanas
Start by warming the milk to about 50ºC – hot enough that when you poke your finger in it you feel you might burn if you left it there. Add 25g of the flour, 5g of the sugar, and the yeast. Stir well, and let this sit for about 15 minutes. (Why? Yeast and butter don’t get along, so this gives the yeast a sporting chance. Other brioche recipes would have you make the dough without the butter, and then work it in between rising and proving. St Julia, bless her, has a brioche recipe that takes a full cycle of the moon.)
Meanwhile, combine the remaining 200g of flour, the remaining 15g of sugar, and the salt in large bowl. Cut the butter into small cubes, and rub in, as though you were making pastry. You’re aiming for the texture of breadcrumbs.
Break the eggs into the (cooled) yeast/milk mix, and attack with the a whisk until it’s smooth. Add this into the flour/butter mix, and mix into a ball of dough. If the flour isn’t all absorbed, a teensy splash of milk will help. (Likewise, if it’s too gloopy, just let it sit for a few minutes and it will sort itself out.)
Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes. If it’s warm, and the dough starts to become greasy and slippery, which it may even before you knead, then the butter is melting, so pop it into the fridge for 20 minutes to rest. (It was 30ºC outside and 25ºC inside when I was testing this, so the pastry/dough required two rests in the fridge, and I got lots of washing up done.)
Once the dough is suitably elastic, pop it into a bowl to rise, covered by a damp teatowel. It’ll take about an hour, depending on how warm the room is. An overnight rise in the fridge is also acceptable.
Once risen, punch the dough down, and knead it again for a few minutes. Your kneading and folding should be done with the cunning plan of getting it into a rectangle, about the size and shape of a piece of A4 paper. A rolling pin helps at the last stage – I use a wine bottle.
Lightly sprinkle the rectangle of dough with brown sugar, and press in the raisins/sultanas. It may seem like a lot of raisins, but quite a few will fall out when you slice the thing up in a moment.
Now. How greedy are you feeling? You could roll the sheet along its long axis, and slice it into twelve. That will give you some quite little pain au raisin, something to serve on the side. You could roll it along the short axis, and slice it into eight, or if you want some big chunky fellows, into six. Regardless, the slicing should be done with a very large sharp knife, using lots of sideways action and minimal downard pressure.
Arrange these on two baking sheets with a respectful amount of room on either side. Squish down lightly with the palm of your hand. If your baking sheets aren’t terribly non stick, then a light greasing, or some baking paper will help.
Cover them in cling wrap, and let them prove for about an hour.
They may unravel when proving, so a little stage management, and tucking in will be called for. I squeeze the ends and tuck them under the coil.
To make the glaze beat one egg, and about a teaspoon of milk. Brush lightly all over before popping in the oven. (Why the glaze? Otherwise they look a bit pale on the outside.)
For the little ones, 15 mins at 180ºC should do, maybe as little as 10. The bigger ones will need about 20 minutes.
Onto a cooling rack.
I’ve had a go at popping them into the freezer between the slicing and proving phases. They’ll need all night in the fridge, and maybe a few hours at room temperature to thaw. They baked up OK. Obviously you’ll need room in the fridge to put the baking sheet, and don’t forget to cover them in cling wrap.
You might not bother slicing the thing, once rolled up, but merely let it prove and put it into the oven whole.
You might not bother with the sultanas at all. Just punch down, shape into a loaf, prove, glaze, and bake for about 25 mins. Knock underneath to test, of course.